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Top 10 Games with Indie Editor, Katrina Lind

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Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors, and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree.

Compared to others, I’m generally new to gaming. I was raised in a very small town of about a thousand people in middle of nowhere Oregon. My town was very weird, and the way I tend to describe my hometown is a combination of the quirky parts of Gravity Falls and the disturbing parts of Twin Peaks. When I was a child, I was fortunate to have access to acres of vast forests, but I was always drawn to multimedia, as opposed to the outdoors.

I grew up playing Super Mario Bros. 3 with my older brother on our small CRTV, but when I got older, and my brother moved out to start college, I sort of dropped off the gaming map. The last system I owned was an N64 with only 2 games; Donkey Kong 64 and Star Wars Pod Racing (I just learned that it’s actually called Star Wars Episode I: Racer, but I don’t really believe that’s true). I grew up dirt poor and lived 40 miles from the nearest store, so my access to gaming was very limited. I instead focused my energy on reading, writing, and art. I read old plays I found in my garage and would write synopses of how I’d produce them.

I didn’t get back into gaming until I was in my 3rd year of college in 2014, and found gaming to be incredibly similar to my major, Theatre, and from there my love of gaming bloomed. I found gaming and theatre to be about the experience for the audience and found game design similar to the construction of a show.

But hey, enough about my sappy past, let’s get down to the games, listed in chronological order of when I played them.

Super Mario Bros. 3

I watched my brother beat Super Mario Bros. 3 on our small old CRTV in the late ’90s. After my brother grew up and left for college, I was a bored, lonely child, and Mario was the first game I ever picked up and was determined to beat by myself. I would spend a few hours every day after school for what felt like a year slowly making my way through Mario. Even though gaming has changed quite a bit since then, Mario set the rules in my brain of how games should look, feel, and play. Super Mario Bros. 3 is the cornerstone for how I view gaming today.

Limbo

Limbo was the first indie game I ever played. I watched a friend play it, was taken aback at the games visuals and KNEW I had to immediately go home and play it. Limbo got me back into gaming and opened up indie gaming for me as well. I loved the stark visuals, puzzles, and the overall tone. Limbo felt similar to film noir, or even an old expressionist film and to me, serves as an example of gaming as an art form. I also love the way Limbo tells its story through sound and ambiance. Ever since I first saw my friend boot it up, Limbo has been seared into my memory. 

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

I got Animal Crossing on my birthday, gifted to me with an accompanying, brand new, pearl pink 3DS from my boyfriend, Tyler, who bought it with his very sparse budget. As soon as I got that game, I didn’t put it down. I think I’ve sunk about 300 hours into my town, and I used to set real-world phone alarms in order to catch certain fish and bugs. I completed everything in that game, and it was the first game I played that felt wholly mine. I don’t think I stopped playing until a year or two after I started it. The game is just so cute, and so pure, and I get easily addicted to open-ended community simulation games. Every time Animal Crossing is even brought up, I just think of my poor town that I’ve since abandoned.

Silent Hill 2

I played Silent Hill 2 over 10 years after the game’s original release, and it was still pretty damn terrifying, even on PS2. What I wasn’t expecting were the refined story elements. I tend to like stories that I can pick apart, and I was immediately drawn to the allusions about James’ sexuality and the various ways one could analyze the story. It also hits all three of the marks of the things I enjoy in general: spooky things, puzzles, and strong storytelling. I love how the whole game embraces the idea of Artaud (Theatre of Cruelty) which was what I studied extensively in college. The idea behind Artaud is to question the process by which things are done and allow artists to assault the senses of the audience, allowing them to feel the unexpressed emotions of the subconscious. It might seem pretty avant-garde, but Silent Hill 2 does this seamlessly. I’ve yet to play the game a second time, but I look forward to the day I do.

The Last of Us

After I finished the playable prologue for The Last of Us, I profusely cried. I’m a crier in general, but The Last of Us did me in with the short story they presented. The storytelling element in The Last of Us is powerful, but what stuck out to me most about this game is the way in which the mechanics tell the story. Naughty Dog is insanely clever in developing environmental cues, which couples with the script in order to guide the player into solving puzzles with ease. I also loved the moral aspect of The Last of Us and the many ways you can interpret what the title means. The game feels tangible and real, and that’s because of the way that the mechanics are developed. The Last of Us is not a game about zombies, it’s a game about the self and humanity.

Her Story

Her Story is admirably simple. You type terms into a search engine in order to try and discover what happened in a murder. Your search brings up 5 relevant video clips of testimony by one (?) woman. I never fully figured out what happened, or if there is one true and final solution. I never watched all of the clips, and the order in which I watched them helped dictate what I believed to be the story. I still think about Her Story and still, I try to piece together what happened, even a few years after first playing it.

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption was the first game I played by myself on the PS3 in the winter of 2015. I wrote an article earlier this year stating why this particular game changed my life. The combination of being isolated in the woods during the winter, and playing for hours on end made me see Red Dead as something similar to an Arthur Miller play. The game is tragic, human, and has a way of capturing the budding American west as well as a Ken Burns documentary. I couldn’t believe that a AAA game could be this good. Red Dead remains my favorite game to this day, and I still listen to the soundtrack on my drives through the wilderness and the mountainous hills of Oregon.

Life is Strange

When I played the first few episodes of Life is Strange, I hated it. I thought it was all some stupid teen drama game with some minimal choices and a bit of time travel. Boy, was I wrong. Once I hit the meat of the game, I was enraptured. Life is Strange is weirdly relevant to my life growing up in Oregon. I was essentially Max in high school, although I bet a majority of the people who play Life is Strange can say the same thing. I grew up in my weird small town saying things like “let’s go tea-tasting in Portland”, played acoustic guitar, and carried stupid artsy things with me.

It’s pretty painful in retrospect. I’m cringing as I write this. I had friends similar to Chloe and knew many people exactly like Frank. Life is Strange ended up reminding me about how painful, hilarious, and strange being a teenager is. Life is Strange is a masterpiece of indie gaming storytelling and helps redefine the genre of story-based adventure games. I’m consistently impressed at how well a French developer is able to capture life in a small Oregon town, and how eerily similar it does actually feel to Oregon – except Oregon has more trees.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild was the first Zelda game I ever finished. Since I grew up with limited games, I just completely missed the Zelda franchise that is such a staple among so many gamer’s youths. I started with Ocarina of Time maybe 3 years ago but ended up getting flustered at the old mechanics and not being able to get fully immersed in the story. Blasphemous, I know. I then moved on to trying Majora’s Mask, and made it a good 2/3rds of the way into the game, but ended up abandoning it because life happened instead. This spring, when BOTW came out, for three weeks, all I did was wake up, play Zelda, make dinner, play Zelda, sleep, and repeat. I have about 200 hours on that game, and like most players, a good amount of my time was spent goofing off. I am fully in love with Breath of the Wild and love every inch of it. I’m sure it would mean a great deal more if I had actually played more Zelda throughout my life, but I feel BOTW was a good introduction for me.

Stardew Valley

I picked up Stardew Valley for the Switch last week, promptly sunk 30+ hours into it and it’s already one of my favorite games. Stardew had been recommended to me by so many of my friends and colleagues and I’m just now finally getting around to playing it. Having the game, particularly on the Switch, feels like an Animal Crossing shaped void in my life has been filled. Stardew is sweet, simple and relaxing. The enjoyment I get out of the game comes from working hard on what I put into it, and then reaping what I sow. I play to relax after work and feel like Stardew is very therapeutic.

I feel like my journey as a gamer has only just begun. There are arguably massive gaps of gaming history that I’ve missed entirely, and I feel like I’m playing catch-up whenever I can. A lot of this doesn’t hold a nostalgic tinge, as I’ve only played within the last three years, but nonetheless, gaming is fully a part of who I am now.

Katrina Lind is a Writer, Editor, and PR Manager for Goomba Stomp. She has an affinity for everything Indie Gaming and loves the idea of comparing the world of gaming to the world of art, theater, and literature. Katrina resides in the Pacific Northwest where she swears she grew up in a town closely resembling Gravity Falls and Twin Peaks.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Ricky D

    November 4, 2017 at 11:34 am

    Super Mario Bros. 3 is still the best Mario game. Great choice.

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.

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garden story

Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?

Setting the Scene

Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.

There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.

Rebuilding a Community

So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).

Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.

While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.

Ambient Appeal

Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.

In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.

Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.

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How Asynchronous Online in ‘Death Stranding’ Brings Players Together

Hideo Kojima’s latest game creates a sense of community by aiding other players on the same perilous journey.

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Death Stranding

Video games have always been fascinated with the idea of player interactivity as a means of crafting a power fantasy. The player typically goes on a hero’s journey, eventually culminating in them being the one and only savior of the world inside the game. Typically associated with single-player games, MMOs also crafted that same narrative but with the conceit that everyone is going on this journey. Often the acknowledgments of other players are in multiplayer-specific features such as PvP and Raids. Destiny is a great example of a series that takes players on the same journey and makes no promise that the story is different between players by even allowing them to engage in playing story missions together. It all feeds into the larger narrative of Guardians fighting together to save the Light. A game that handles this very similar and perhaps more successfully is Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.

While lacking any direct player-to-player interaction, Kojima’s latest game is drenched in the conceit that community is crucial to triumph over adversity. You can read many articles about the game’s ideas of community from fellow writers on the site. What hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves is how revolutionary Death Stranding feels in terms of utilizing asynchronous online to greatly affect the game itself. Games like Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles have included the ability to leave notes (which Death Stranding also offers) that help (or trick) players as they venture throughout the world on their own. How those notes’ effects are manifested are often on a much smaller scale – helpful at times but often to warn players of an impending way they might die. They don’t have a large impact on the player, only a temporary means of cheating death. 

Where Death Stranding becomes something greater in scale is in what it lets other players do to other peoples’ single-player experiences. In the game, you play as Sam Porter Bridges who is tasked with reconnecting America from coast-to-coast. At first, the game thrusts Sam into its narrative, taking the reluctant, isolated character and forcing him to eventually realize the importance of hope and connections in dire times. As Sam starts bringing more and more people onto the Chiral network (which allows instantaneous communication and the transferring of 3D-printable goods), so too does the game open up and reveal its ultimate goal: to bring players together.

Death Stranding

This doesn’t mean players will ever talk to other players, and the game very much avoids any real negative actions that can be performed on players. In fact, someone could play the game without ever actively engaging with online features. Instead, the game will passively hand out “likes” to other players whose ladders are used or roads are driven. If one wanted to fight the game’s narrative and instead keep Sam isolated and away from the community that the Chiral network provides, they could definitely do that – no matter how antithetical it would be to do so. Death Stranding even offers an offline mode that would nullify all of that and keep the experience solely on the player’s impact on the world and no one else’s. 

Yet there’s a reason the online mode is the default mode. It was near the end of Episode 3 (which also happens to be when the game unloads almost all of its mechanics onto the player) when I finally realized the impact I was having on other people’s games. I had spent an entire day playing the game, but focusing largely on delivering premium deliveries – these are optional challenges that essentially boil down to carrying more cargo, damaging cargo less, or getting to your destination in a set amount of time. Death Stranding doesn’t ever tell you the best way to get somewhere. Instead, it places a wide array of tools in front of you and assuming the Chiral network is set up in an area, it can provide a rough guide on places to avoid or infrastructure already built. However, one of the key pieces of infrastructure missing for my playthrough was roads. My efforts immediately became focused on building a network of roads that made their way all throughout one of the larger areas in the game.

The game doesn’t ever make you build roads. It tells you the option is there but it doesn’t force your hand. Often tools will be introduced, like zip lines and floating carriers, but the game never demands that they’re used. Of course, engaging with those tools will make your life easier. There are easy ways to start building infrastructure in Death Stranding: ropes and ladders can help to scale mountains or plummet depths. Those will remain in the world for other players to use and will even appear on their maps as they hook up areas to the Chiral network. So, someone who plays the game earlier than someone else could lay down ropes and ladders, and depending on when the other person starts playing, they will find those once they have progressed to a point where they are traversing that area. Where the game becomes even grander in its sense of community is the realization that the more players commit to building roads or setting up zip lines, the more other players benefit.

Death Stranding

The reality is that ladders and ropes are temporary – they cannot be rebuilt, they can only be replaced. The game’s Timefall – a weather phenomenon that acts as rain but ages anything it comes into contact with – can reset an entire map after a while if there is nothing more substantial placed on the map. So in my game, I decided that whenever I could build a road, I committed to doing so. This could mean going to multiple waystations and collecting materials that have amassed over time from deliveries, or going out in the world and finding these materials like Chiral crystals. At a certain point, I would load up a truck with multiple deliveries that were on or near the roads I had built, as well as with as many metal and ceramic materials I could load into the truck before it reached capacity. As I delivered packages, I’d replace them with more deliveries and more materials from each waystation. Eventually, I’d find myself at a point where a road was not built yet and would then build that road.

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding .

In contrast to a game like Dark Souls, actions in the world such as providing notes on the ground or helping another player with a boss battle is helping them cheat death. The community that is being built is not one that has any lasting effect on the world in the game. No Man’s Sky may let players interact with each other and further their knowledge of the universe within the game, but often that help is relegated to an isolated planet. It’s a more contained impact. Hideo Kojima created a game where players don’t just build infrastructures for themselves, they can intentionally or inadvertently assist other players throughout their games. This leads to players like myself creating strand contracts with other players who have built things I liked in the game. A strand contract is a powerful feature because it means more of that players’ roads or other items built for the world will show up more frequently in my game.

Every Action in Death Stranding Creates Hope

One of the perks of building so many roads is you also get a lot of likes, whether passively given because someone used the road or actively provided by a player because they not only used the road but were appreciative that someone built it. It’s hard not to feel important in someone else’s life when you’ve made their experience less cumbersome because they no longer have to drive over rocky terrain or through enemy territory but instead can take a highway to their destination. What’s better is that more substantial developments like bridges and roads can be repaired by other players and even upgraded. So while I laid the initial roads down, I actually haven’t spent any materials repairing them. Instead, notifications come in and tell me players have repaired roads I’ve built. There’s no real reason to do that unless the infrastructure built was necessary to their journey through the game – making it easier but also providing the same feeling of helping out a larger community. 

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding – a game that doesn’t even try to be subtle in its intentions. Traversing Kojima’s version of post-apocalyptic America is harrowing on your own. With just your two feet and a package to deliver when the entire world itself is trying to stop you from doing so, America isn’t just divided – it’s hostile. Where Death Stranding shines brightest is when it offers a helping hand. Players aid one another to achieve the same unified goal: save the country. All of this is under the assumption that the country can be saved, but there is no denying that seeing someone else’s rope hanging off a steep cliff, or a Timefall shelter where it rains Timefall on a constant basis, is one of the most satisfying feelings. In Death Stranding, it isn’t enough to know that you’re making progress, but that everyone is willing to assist others to reach the same end goal. It’s a game where every action creates hope and is built upon the idea that we are at our best when we work together.

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Game Reviews

‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy

Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.

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With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego GamesWoven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.

Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.

Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.

However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.

But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.

Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.

But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.

And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.

Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.

Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.

‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).

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